Making Far-Away Family Members Feel Closer to Home
We have a lot of family who live far away, and it’s hard for my small kids to feel like they know them and be comfortable around them. When family gatherings happen once a year, it takes a while for the kids to warm up to cousins and grandmothers whom they rarely see. And that’s fine. I don’t force my kid to climb up on someone’s lap and give them a hug when they would rather cling to my leg and hide their face around people who aren’t so familiar.
They warm up eventually, and in the meantime I look for ways to incorporate far-away family members into our daily life so my kids will know they are loved by a great group of people.
We talk about them and share memories. “Remember when you went to New York to see them and you rode the subway?” “Do you remember when we went to the country and you played outside with your cousins?”
I point out what they have in common with family members, whether it be a shared genetic trait like the same eye color or common interests. “You have brown eyes just like your Aunt LeLe.” “You know who else likes ice cream? Your Papaw likes ice cream too.” It helps them to relate to people who are so much bigger and older than them.
We cherish gifts. It’s not that I want to place importance on the thing itself. I don’t want my kids to feel obligation or guilt that they always have to keep a blanket because someone who loves them gave it to them. I want to emphasize the thoughtfulness and intention behind the gift, so when my daughter mentions how much she loves her toy, I take a moment to remind her of the person who gave it to her. “She wanted you to have it because she thought you would have a lot of fun playing with it.”
Sometimes it’s hard for far-away family members to know what gifts my kids would like or what interests them; it’s hard for them to keep up with the kids’ development and interests. I keep a family wishlist online at Wishpot to keep track of gift ideas that I see during the year. When someone wants help with a gift suggestion, they can browse the list. Wishpot has tags so I can save items for each person. Otherwise I would find gift ideas throughout the year, but when someone wanted an idea I would have forgotten all of them.
I made photo flash cards for my one-year-old child to help recognize people’s faces. It also helped her learn names of household objects and the places we go. I have no idea if it helped her to recognize them, but she liked looking at them. They were time consuming to make though, and if I were to do it again, I would probably just print the photos and not go to the trouble of cutting or laminating them, or I would upload them to a photo website to make a mini album.
We create movies. Instead of sending a birthday card to my brother this year, we made a movie of our family singing Happy Birthday to him and emailed it to him. It was so fun when he and his wife did the same and sent a movie of themselves singing to my daughter for her birthday. Those movies were fun now, and they will be even more precious in thirty years. It didn’t take much time, but we watched those quick movies over and over again. It was special to see a movie made just for her.
What ways do you try to help your kids get to know distant family members?